Friday, March 15, 2013

A Fashionable Faith can not be the Christian Faith

The Christian faith and the Christ have never been fashionable. Even before His fleshly incarnation, the Hebrew Prophets prophesied that the Chosen People would reject their promised Savior:

  • The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone. (Psalm 118:22) 
  • This is what the Lord says--the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel--to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: "Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful” (Isaiah 49:7) 
  • He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5)
  • "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” (Zech. 12:10)
Resisting the idea that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel, today’s Rabbis resist the assertions of the New Testament that Jesus fulfills these prophecies. For instance, Gerald Sigal protested that:

  • “Jesus, as portrayed in the Gospels, does not at all fit that of the Suffering Servant of the Lord as portrayed in Isaiah.” (The Jew and the Christian Missionary)
Sigal cites the fact that Jesus had been “glorified by all” (Luke 4:14-15), that He had been followed by “a great multitude” (Luke 8:4), and that a member of the Sanhedrin “had also become a disciple of Jesus” (Matthew 27:57). From these evidences, Sigal argues that Jesus was actually popular.

While it is true that Jesus had made a handful of disciples, He was largely hated and rejected. When the Roman governor Pilate asked the crowds what he should do with Jesus, they answered, "Let Him be crucified!" (Matthew 27:22)

How do we explain the contrast between this response and the multitudes that “followed” Him? They were not following Him; they were following for what they could get out of Him. Jesus explained:

  • Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs [that attest to who I am] but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval." (John 6:26-27)
Once Jesus began teaching them, even the free meals couldn’t keep them there:

  • From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. (John 6:66) 
They had no interest in Jesus, just in His benefits. Why? He spoke the truth and uncovered sin:

  • “The world…hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7). 
This is important to understand lest we despair. We tend to think that because we are now disdained and rejected, we bear no resemblance to our Savior and that there must be something terribly the matter with us - the way we do church, and even our Gospel. However, our Lord attributes the disdain to something else:

  • "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20) 
According to Jesus, we are really different, and it’s because of this that we are hated. However, very few Christians believe or acknowledge this. We have been hoodwinked by our pluralistic culture into believing that it’s wrong and arrogant to make such “us-them” distinctions. We are told that our beliefs are the cause of warfare. The past president of Union Theological Seminary, Joseph Hough Jr., stated this in a NYT interview:

  • The fomenting of religious conflict has been and still is a theological problem for Christians, because we have made our claim to God’s revelation exclusively ours…we have killed each other and members of other religions in defending that exclusive claim [that Christ is the only way].
Although we have to own up to the fact that many bad things have been done in the name of our Savior, this doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with His teachings or the exclusive truth claims of Christianity. In fact, whenever anyone thinks that they have the truth, they necessarily exclude competing ideas. This is unavoidable. Hough too believes he has the exclusive truth and whatever he says attests to this fact.

More importantly, believing that we are “born again” or a “child of the light” represents the height of arrogance to this secular world. It divides people instead of drawing them together and must be eliminated.

Just yesterday, a New Age teacher at the Ethical Culture Society repeatedly declared that true spirituality and spiritual growth is about experience and not creed. Creed causes conflict. However, this old destructive I’m-right-you’re-wrong thinking was now being eliminated by a new consciousness - the oneness of all humanity - and the old ways will no longer be tolerated. However, he too was promoting a particular New Age creed, one he declared was true.

I responded:

  • I’d like to make a little defense for creed. It is my faith that Jesus died for me, forgave me and loves me that makes it possible for me to confidently love and forgive others. Creed is essential to love and life. Creedal distinctions aren’t the problem but rather our intolerance of these distinctions.
As an example, I pointed to the inevitable distinctions and differences of opinion between my wife and myself. They laughed in acknowledgment of this pervasive reality.

Nevertheless, we must confess that we fall short in many respects. We are far from what we should be. However, this doesn’t mean that we are more contemptible than others. Sadly, this is the way many young Christians now regard the church. Consequently, they want to popularize and modernize the church, failing to see that such a strategy has always compromised the church, depleting it of its vitality, light and authenticity.

The present emphasis is now on mysticism (experience) and morality (good works). Doctrine is denigrated. Preaching is put down.

After healing many, Jesus went off by Himself to pray. After a while Peter and the others found Him and implored Him to come back because “everyone is looking for you.” They wanted to be healed of their many afflictions. What could be more important than that! However:

  • Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else--to the nearby villages--so I can preach there also. That is why I have come." (Mark 1:38)
As long as Jesus was giving people what they wanted, He was “popular.” But that wasn’t central to His mission. Preaching the Gospel was! Jesus placed creed over experience, even over physical blessing. Therefore, His agenda didn’t line up with the popular agenda; His words didn’t match what they wanted to hear, and they put Him to death.

Christ and Christianity have never been popular or fashionable, not the real Christianity! Insisting that it be that way is to deny what it really is and also to betray our Lord.

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